Like the astronomical salaries of chief executives, the world of top soccer players appears to be recession-proof. Never mind that most Spanish clubs are hugely in debt and many have not paid taxes for years, Real Madrid have coughed up 100 million euros (US$132 million) for Wales international winger Gareth Bale.
Bale will be paid 6 million euros a year — 1 euro for each of Spain’s 6 million unemployed. He is 24, but he will not be among the 56 percent of Spain’s under-25s who are out of work, nor the others who are stuck at home on salaries of 600 euros a month.
“It’s a sad day,” said Toni, a waiter in Barcelona. “While the country is sunk in misery, families are ruined and children are growing up in poverty, this guy turns up and we pay 91 million euros for him. Really, we’ve lost the plot.”
“I think Spanish clubs should stop spending on foreign players and instead invest in youth teams,” said Miguel, a student from Tarragona.
“Besides, Barcelona have won 16 cups spending half what Madrid have and if this money is a loan guaranteed by Bankia, as it was when they signed [Cristiano] Ronaldo, maybe we’ll all end up paying for it, not Madrid,” he said.
Despite Spain’s dire economy and colossal unemployment, reading through the hundreds of readers’ comments in the Madrid sports daily Marca, the prevailing argument is not that paying such a fee is scandalous or whether Bale is worth it, but whether he will be successful and, above all, if he will help the club to overtake Barcelona.
“The crisis is over, Bale is here,” quipped one reader. “There’s no bread on the table, but no worries, we’ve got Bale.”
After the anticipation of an on-off transfer story that has been running all summer, about 30,000 fans turned out at Real Madrid’s Santiago Bernabeu to welcome the player.
Bale, accompanied by his family, won the fans over by kissing the team’s badge. He then said, in Spanish: “It’s always been my dream to play for Real Madrid. Thank you for such a warm welcome.”
In his first press conference, Bale said the money was not an issue.
“I would have signed for a cent,” he said.
He was also quick to praise his fellow player Ronaldo, who many believe is jealous of Bale.
While the talk is of Bale signing for 100 million euros, the figure released by Real Madrid was 91 million euros, ensuring it is not higher than the 96 million euros they paid for the prickly Ronaldo.
Sandalio Gomez of the IESE Business School’s center for sports business management, an expert on Real Madrid, said that when it comes to soccer you have to look at the investment from both an economic and a sporting perspective.
“Trophies aren’t worth much economically, but winning attracts sponsors and TV rights. Real Madrid paid the same amount of money for Cristiano Ronaldo as for Bale and no one disputes that it was money well spent because of the attention it brings the club. Or look at David Beckham. They didn’t sign Beckham to play football because they didn’t need him for that — they needed him because the media love him and for that reason he was a profitable signing. Bale is not a media star, but if he’s successful as a player, he could become one,” Gomez said.
In Spain, the bakery may have shut down, but the circus is still hiring, it is paying top dollar and the public love it.